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  • Time perspectives on intermodal transport of consolidated cargo

    Robert Sommar* and Johan Woxenius** Department of Technology Management and Economics Chalmers University of Technology SE-412 96, Göteborg Sweden * tel: +46 31 772 1354 fax: +46 31 772 1337 e-mail: robsom@chalmers.se ** tel: +46 31 772 1339 fax: +46 31 772 1337 e-mail: johwox@chalmers.se

    EJTIR, 7, no. 2 (2007), pp. 163-182 Intermodal road-rail freight transport is often argued to have certain cost and time handi- caps against all-road transport. Based on theory defining the elements transport time, order time, timing, punctuality and frequency, literature on modal choice is surveyed. With few ex- ceptions, transport time and punctuality is top ranked, while frequency and timing is re- garded as less important by respondents. Timing is excluded in some studies and order time is not found. The time elements are also used for comparing the characteristics of intermodal transport and all-road transport. Particular attention is paid to the preconditions for using intermodal transport as part of consolidation networks with subsequent terminal handlings. Since time aspects in transportation are highly contextual, the analysis is deepened within the framework of a case study focusing Schenker’s domestic transport services in Sweden. Schenker’s time requirements are matched against the times CargoNet, their main supplier of intermodal terminal-to-terminal services, can offer. It is concluded that correspondence of the transport time between the consolidation network and the intermodal network are in fact not a strong prerequisite to use intermodal transport, although correspondence of departure and arrival times is significantly higher for the inter- modal relations regularly used by the logistics service provider. Regarding timing, adjusting departure and arrival times by one hour will not increase the competitiveness for the consoli- dated cargo significantly, more profound adjustments are required. The order time of the in- termodal freight transport service is not well suited to consolidated cargo due to volume in- formation unavailability. The consolidated cargo schedule is sensitive for rather small devia- tions in punctuality. Keywords: Consolidated cargo, intermodal freight transport, logistics service provider, punc- tuality, time

    mailto:robsom@chalmers.se mailto:johwox@chalmers.se

  • Time perspectives on intermodal transport of consolidated cargo 164

    1. Introduction

    Intermodal road-rail freight transport (IFT) is often mentioned among the top priorities for turning the European transport system into a sustainable direction, see, e.g., European Com- mission (2001). With rising tax levels and fuel prices, increasing problems with congestion and germinating environmental consciousness among shippers, also the road haulage industry has turned an interested eye at IFT. So far, however, IFT development has followed a some- what disappointing trajectory and scenarios point at steeply rising volumes for all-road trans- port. Numerous studies on why IFT is not really taking off have been initiated by authorities and research boards at European, national and regional level as well as by the stakeholders within the industry. A particular wealth of literature relates to shippers’ preferences when choosing traffic mode. Examples of studies specifically addressing preferences for IFT are Evers et al. (1996), Golias and Yannis (1997), Harper and Evers (1993), Ljungemyr (1995), Ludvigsen (1999) and Shinghal and Fowkes (2002). Among the parameters making up the transport quality, transport time, punctuality and other time related ones are top ranked in many studies (e.g, Evers et al., 1996; Swedish Rail Authority, 1999; Cullinane and Toy, 2000). The concept of time in relation to transport operations is truly multi-faceted but although it is an integrated part of many studies, it has not attracted abundant attention from researchers (ECMT, 2005). Its perceived importance for development of IFT services motivates further elaboration. Most studies of modal choice focus shippers. Division of labour in logistics, however, is highly contextual and this certainly includes who really decides which mode to employ. Shipper preferences are obviously vital, but it should be acknowledged that decisions on how to convey the goods are often taken by a logistics service provider (LSP), which is here wid- ely defined as the actor on the supplier side of the market for logistics services. This role is sometimes played by freight forwarders or agents and sometimes by transport operators di- rectly. The LSP has a particularly dominant role for modal choice on markets with a strong intermediary role for mode-independent LSPs. This is realised by Golias and Yannis (1997), who focused forwarders and carriers in an analysis of determinants of IFT market share at routes Greece-Italy-Germany. Time is critical for LSPs operating consolidation networks utilising rail for long-distance transport. Admittedly, the share of transported tons of consolidated cargo is small compared to the shares of part loads and full loads. Nevertheless, the fact that many transport systems are designed for co-production of part loads and consolidated cargo imply that fulfilling re- quirements defined by consolidated cargo is very important for IFT success. This is a true challenge since the strong shipper demand for over-night deliveries has to be fulfilled yet ac- tivities at both consolidation terminals and intermodal terminals consume considerable time. Risks for propagating delays must also be mitigated. Since consolidation networks are gener- ally designed adhering to the production profile of road transport, it has a prestige value if IFT can compete as a supplier of long-distance conveyance. The purpose of this article is to elaborate on time aspects in conjunction with intermodal freight transport. Particular attention is paid to possibilities for fulfilling demands set by con- solidated cargo within the classic IFT production profile based on night-leap trains between large-scale terminals separated by rather long distances. The geographical scope is set to na- tions or economic zones where road and rail are relevant options. The article starts with a theoretical elaboration on elements of time. This is followed by a short review of literature investigating the importance of time for modal choice. A series of

    European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research

  • Sommar and Woxenius 165

    figures is then used for elaborating on time aspects particular to intermodal transport and con- solidation networks as well as the case when intermodal transport is used for producing the long-distance transport between consolidation terminals. Since many of the issues brought up here are very contextual, analysis depth requires illustration in a well defined framework. Consequently, the article includes a case study. It focuses Schenker’s domestic transport ser- vices in Sweden and implications when moving consolidated cargo by IFT as an alternative to all-road transport. The analysis is based on real data supplied by Schenker and CargoNet, their supplier of intermodal terminal-to-terminal services, in combination with in-depth inter- views with key personnel.

    2. Time aspects of transport networks

    According to Woxenius (2006), the major time related elements can be distinguished as: 1. Transport time; the scheduled duration of a transport 2. Order time; the required time before departure that a transport has to be ordered to

    guarantee capacity, a certain price or service level 3. Timing; the scheduled points of time for departure and arrival 4. Punctuality; the ability of keeping the schedule 5. Frequency; the number of departures during a certain time

    Among the time elements, transport time and punctuality are clearly the ones most discussed relating to IFT. Yet, speed and precision are not enough if the service has to be ordered long in advance, the departure or arrival time does not fit or if the service is irregular. Some prin- ciples for the time elements are shown in figure 1. In reality, the lines in the figures are rarely straight. Different speeds, as shown by the angle of inclination in the figure, along the route, breaks, waiting times and sorting activities all af- fect the character of the distance-time curves. The basis for the transport time, shown with the arrow ta-td in figure 1a, is the inherent speeds of the traffic modes, for freight typically ranked air, road, rail and sea. Rail has the best tech- nical and economic preconditions for varying speed, but is hampered by the rigidness of time tables, coordination between trains and propagating delays in the network. An advantage over road, however, is that a centralised train control can prioritise between trains. Nevertheless, in such decisions, at least European freight trains are generally leaving way for passenger trains although there are examples of giving higher priority to freight (European Commission, 2001; SIKA, 2002). The demand for speed is also vaguely connected to the size of consign- ments. For smaller consignments, however, economic reality most often implies consolida- tion activities to facilitate economy of scale during long-distance transport. Detours and sort- ing then consume considerable time.

    European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research

  • Time perspectives on intermodal transport of consolidated cargo

    European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research



    Figure 1. Principles for the time elements. tBo B=time of order, t BdB=time of departure, tBaB=time of arrival are points of


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